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Sports Betting 101 - How to Bet on Basketball


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How to bet basketball

How to Bet on Basketball

Basketball betting is the 2nd most popular sport in the North American betting markets each year behind football, and when the NCAA tournament arrives – otherwise known as March Madness – basketball betting handles skyrocket for sportsbooks during that three-week period.

Generally speaking, betting on basketball is classified as predominantly a spread betting sport with the point spread for a specific basketball game being the most dissected betting aspect of a particular contest. But as is the case with other spread-related sports, money lines, over-unders, and a whole host of other betting options ranging from individual game props to team futures are readily offered in the basketball markets as well.

Understanding Basketball Odds

As a point-spread based sport, understanding basketball odds is really no different. Oddsmakers put out a particular point spread line on a game and it's up to bettors to decide whether or not they want to lay the number with the favorite or take the points with the underdog.

For example, a NBA game featuring the New York Knicks at the Boston Celtics could have a point spread of Boston -6.5. That means that Boston would have to win the game by 7 or more points for bettors backing the Celtics to win, while any other result – New York winning the game outright or losing by 6 points or less – cashes a ticket for those who picked New York on the point spread.

Again, there are money line and over-under betting odds available in basketball betting as well, and they are relatively straight forward to deal with too. In that particular example, Boston would likely be something like -245 on the money line to win the game by any margin (bet $245 to win $100) where a total could be posted anywhere in the low 200's, say 217.5, and bettors are formulating an opinion on whether or not the combined score will be over or under that number.

Decimal Odds

For decimal odds, the process is extremely easy. Say you bet on the Lakers at decimal odds of 1.5. The inverse would be 1 divided by the decimal odds, in this case, 1/1.5 = 0.66 = 66%. That means the sportsbook is implying that the probability of the Lakers winning is 66%.

Fractional Odds

Using fractional odds, things aren’t much more complicated. Let’s say you’re betting on Gonzaga at fractional odds of 6/4. To get the implied probability, divide the denominator by the sum of both numerator and denominator. Like so: 4/(6+4) = 4/10 = 0.4 = 40% implied probability.

American Odds

With American odds, the process is a little more complex. Let’s say you’re betting on the Celtics at -200. Divide the odds by the sum of the odds and 100. Like so: 200/(200+100) = 200/300 = 0.66 = 66% implied probability.

For positive odds, the process is slightly different. Let’s say the Chicago Bulls are underdogs at +300. Divide 100 by the sum of the odds and 100. Like so: 100/(300+100) = 100/400 = 0.25 = 25% implied probability.

Using implied probabilities, you can figure out how to bet on basketball in a much more effective way. It’s all about finding events where the bookies’ implied probabilities are lower than the real-world probabilities.

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Futures Wager (Team to win)

Like with other sports, basketball futures betting can take off and be highly popular, as the plus-money prices offered on various categories of futures can be awfully enticing.

Typically the most discussed future wager is that of which team will win the championship that particular year and that works on both the NBA and NCAAB level. Odds for winning it all often get way too much airtime in general as this type of future wager is talked about far too much relative to it's success rate, but with the game of basketball being one where one or two very talented players can impact the result much more then say one or two very talented players in sports like football or hockey, the overall futures market in basketball betting can be lucrative.

Aside from trying to predict the outright champion, there are plenty other team-related futures wagers offered for basketball at both levels. NBA bettors can look at things like which team will win their respective division and/or conference, as well as an over-under number on total number of wins a team will get in a season. College basketball bettors will have similar options with season win total projections available, and regular season and conference tournament champions odds offered as well.

If you are looking for a minimal investment to maximize your interest in action, future wagers can satisfy that urge, as you essentially have action down on every game for the teams selected throughout the year. You've just got to be comfortable with having your investment tied up for multiple months.

How to Bet on the NBA Finals

NBA Finals betting is really no different then wagering on any other basketball playoff series as bettors can go with a game-by-game approach and/or have a series wager on the outcome. Every game of the NBA Finals will have a point spread, money line, and total posted as well, and sometimes, depending on what side a bettor may prefer (favorite or underdog), going the game-by-game route does make more sense. But other things have to be considered as well like whether or not said bettor already has a future wager or two in their pocket that's still live on one of the two teams remaining.

Once a Finals matchup is set, oddsmakers put out their NBA Finals odds for the series and Game 1. That's the NBA Finals line that will get quoted in betting previews by content producers like at leading up to the game, but series prices will continue to fluctuate between each contest depending on the result from the previous contest. That leaves potential for bettors to get their preferred team at an even better price should they fall in Game 1, or perhaps start the series on the road and lose one or two of the first two games. There are always plenty of mitigating factors to consider.

How to Bet on March Madness

March Madness is the highest volume of sports betting action over a short period of time every year – the Super Bowl is the biggest one-game event in terms of betting volume – as professional bettors, semi-pro's and even the most recreational of recreational bettors find a way to get action down during March Madness.

What's interesting about the dynamic of NCAA Tournament basketball odds is the quick turnaround for teams that continue to win, as well as the sheer volume of games on those first few days of the tournament. College basketball betting lines are poured over night and day leading up to the tournament, and if you aren't working on the next day's action while the current day's games are being played, you're generally falling behind as a handicapper.

Not only are college basketball lines readily available anywhere and everywhere sports bettors can plop down action during the tournament, but the college basketball point spreads that oddsmakers put out tend to be extremely sharp numbers that can be tough to beat. Oddsmakers have a full season of data to base their numbers off of, and with a full season of knowing the general perception of particular teams in the market as well, and the nature of upsets happening in the NCAA Tournament each year, success from a bettor's standpoint during March Madness can be tough.

Popular Basketball Wagers

Anyone that bets on basketball games at any level will say that any and all wagers are popular, but the “Big Two” tend to be point spreads and totals. Those are the numbers that are referenced most often when breaking down basketball games from a betting standpoint, although in post-season play, money line options become more prevalent as well as bettors may not want to get burned by a “hook” on the point spread, or a team winning by two points instead of covering their 3.5 number. At that stage the level of competition is fairly even respective of the particular matchup, so money lines do get more love in post-season play.


The point spread is always going to be the first starting point for basketball bettors as even if it's not bet on, it's a number that can be used somewhat as a gauge for what bettors can expect to see. With home court and superstar talent being so influential in determining outcomes of basketball games at any level, spreads are a critical big piece in formulating the potential puzzle of a particular game and they are the number everyone looks to beat first.

Totals : Over-Under

Totals bettors tend to prefer totals over spreads for a variety of reasons, and given the volatility in how many points are scored in a given contest, it can be argued that the numbers oddsmakers put out here are generally more beatable from a betting perspective. However, you still need a lot to go right no matter what side you're on for a total in a particular game, and as bettors that prefer 'over' wagers, a single low-scoring quarter early on can all but kill your wager. That's the chance you have to be willing to take though as it is gambling after all.

Money Line

If you are just interested in picking the outright winner of a basketball game, the money line is for you, although the price can be pretty steep and not worthy of a bet in big mismatch type contests. Later on in the year, particularly in the later rounds of the NBA playoffs or NCAA tournament, money line bets can be the better option with point spreads in the single possession range (-1, -2, -3 etc), and going the money line route does allow the bettor a bit more margin of error relative to the few extra cents they'll have to lay.

How do I Bet Basketball Parlays?

Betting basketball parlays is all up to the bettors per usual, as you can parlay point spreads with other ones, or with totals, or incorporate some money line plays as well. One of the better parlay strategies for basketball is to use a couple of money line favorites parlayed together to reduce their overall price, and it's a popular method that oddsmakers will see daily when they assess the action they've booked.

For example, bettors could make a money line parlay on the LA Lakers (-140 money line price) with the Houston Rockets (-175 money line price) to flip to those two minus (aka chalk prices) on each team into a +170 parlay ticket where now $100 pays out $170 profit. That's a much lower out of pocket risk then putting up $140 to win $100 on just the Lakers, or $175 to win $100 on just the Rockets to win, but as is the case with any parlay, both selections must win otherwise the ticket is still a loser.

What are Prop Bets

Prop bets are otherwise known as proposition bets and in basketball wagering they can cover a wide variety of categories. One of the most popular forms of prop betting in basketball is individual stat lines for specific players as things like over-unders on total points scored by a player, total assists, total rebounds, and even combinations of specific stats for guys exist as well. For bettors that have extensive history in the fantasy basketball realm, it may be these prop bets that become highly attractive, and potentially highly lucrative to you if you are successful in that field.


Teasers in basketball betting are just the same as teasers in football betting where bettors can manipulate the point-spread to gain/lose a handful or so of points to make their bet more attractive. Basketball teasers typically only come in the four and six-point range, and what that means is a four-point teaser wager on the favorite would have you taking away four points from their point spread (a spread of LA Lakers -6 would then become LA Lakers -2) and adding four points to the underdog's line (the Lakers opponent would then by +10 from the original +6 line).

Teasers function like parlays though in the fact that you've got to tease at least two outcomes and both selections have to win in order for the ticket to cash. Totals can also be teased up or down too depending on what the bettor prefers.

Live Betting and In-Game Wagering

With the nature of basketball being a sport where points are scored at a much higher rate then any other sport, in-game wagering has plenty of growth potential, and plenty of fans in the betting world already. Scoring runs are the name of the game in a basketball contest, and depending on the team you like for a contest, a scoring run for or against them presents some interesting live betting opportunities.

If the team you're looking to back gives up a scoring run, all of a sudden the point spread you are offered in live betting becomes much more favorable, especially if it's still relatively early in the contest and your team has plenty of time to come back. A team like the Dallas Mavericks could have entered the game as -3 favorites, but find themselves trailing by 6 or 7 points after the first quarter. In that scenario, in-game wagering will likely have the Mavericks as underdogs for the game (+1, +2 +3 etc) and you can also get them at an underdog money line price as well. They'll still have three quarters to make up for the slow start and instead of laying a -140 pregame ML price or the -3 points pregame, you've now got much better prices, albeit losing the game at the time.

Another scenario involves the team you've already backed going on a run to establish a big lead which then presents what's known as a potential 'middle' opportunity. That same Dallas Mavericks team could be up by 10 after the 1st quarter, and with a Dallas -3 ticket already in pocket, you could come back and take the other team at +8 or +9 for the game. Then you'd hope that Dallas ultimately wins the game by 4-7 points and you'd win both wagers.

If there is ever one particular sport made for live and in-game wagering, basketball might be it. The nature of the game with all the scoring swings enables bettors to be quite profitable no matter what side they land on for a particular game, and when the competition is relatively even later on in the year – say, during March Madness, or the NBA playoffs – countless profitable situations can arise for astute in-game wagers.

It's a discipline that's seen a huge amount of action during the Sweet 16 and Final Four games the past few years, as it also allows bettors the potential to get themselves “out of” a bad pregame wager as well. You do have to understand what you are doing though and still practice bankroll discipline, because there are plenty of times where live betting can be extremely dangerous as well if you end up on the losing side after firing multiple times on that team throughout the game. You then turn what would have been a one unit loss (your pregame wager) into one where three or four units are lost and that's where the dilemma is.

1st Half and Second-Half Bets

Just like the usual full game point spread and over-under numbers that are offered by sportsbooks, basketball bettors have the option to beak the game down by halves and even quarters as well. First half and second half wagers add another dynamic to how a bettor envisions a game playing out, as maybe the underdog is one that is likely to get off to a hot start against a potentially sluggish and tired team for example. That's where you'd want to take the points/money line with the underdog in the first half, as maybe the talent disparity that that team is on the wrong side of is able to play well for 20-24 minutes but not the full game.

At the same time, second half bets allow you to get a feel for what's happened already and formulate a conception of how the final half will end up going. Maybe that powerhouse favorite that was sluggish in the first half is one you ultimately believe will win the game, and trailing at half gives you a much better price to back said squad to ultimately come back and win the game. Again, there are so many different scenarios to consider with wagers like these, but 1st and 2nd half wagers should be a tool every basketball handicapper is willing to use when they deem fit.

Best Strategies for Betting on Basketball

Tunnel Betting

Tunnel betting means capitalizing on differences in betting lines offered at the same odds by different bookies. For example, let’s say Bookie #1 has the total for a game at 200, and Bookie #2 has it at 205.

If you take the over 200 and the under 205, if the game ends at anywhere between the two, you’ll win both bets. Best of all, if you miss that range, you’re guaranteed to win one of your bets. It’s a relatively low-risk way of how to bet on basketball.


Middling is a more advanced approach to how to bet on basketball. It’s based on the fact that sportsbooks will adjust betting lines during a game in reaction to player action.

Let’s say you bet on Miami Heat as favorites against the Chicago Bulls, with a spread of -2.5. At halftime, following intense betting on the Bulls, bookies shift the line so the Bulls are the favorites, at -4.5. This creates a happy middle.

If you take both sides of the action, you could stand to make a substantial profit with the right result. If the Heat win by a 3 point lead, both teams will beat the spread. In most other possible outcomes, at least one of your bets will pay off, too. It’s a rather low-risk strategy. Middling is not just a popular way of how to bet on basketball. Many people use it to figure out how to bet on football as well.

FAQ - How To Bet On Basketball

In this section, we’ll answer some of the most frequent inquiries from our readers about how to bet on basketball.

Where is it legal to bet on basketball?

As of March 2021, betting on basketball is legal in 21 states. Another five states have already passed legislation to legalize basketball betting, but it’s yet to be implemented. Several other states are debating legal gambling bills and proposals.

Legal states include Arkansas, Colorado, Mississippi, Iowa, Michigan, Indiana, Montana, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Delaware, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Tennessee, Illinois, West Virginia, Nevada, DC, and Virginia.

Can I bet on college basketball?

Yes, though it depends on the state you’re located in. Officially, the NCAA has a firm stance against collegiate sports betting. The organization actively lobbies for bans on NCAA sports betting.

A few states, such as New Jersey, have enacted legislation that restrict college sports betting, including college basketball. The state of Nevada had similar restrictions for several years, although they were ultimately lifted in 2001.

What’s the most popular basketball betting market?

For basketball betting fans, point spreads are one of the most popular ways to gamble. As basketball is a highly dynamic game with huge score totals, it’s a uniquely thrilling betting market.

Many gamblers combine point spreads with player props and specials to make exotic parleys with attractive odds. An exotic basketball parlay plays a central role in the 2019 Safdie brothers crime thriller, “Uncut Gems.”

Is basketball a good sport for live betting?

Yes, it is. Live betting on NBA games is a tremendously popular form of sports betting. As basketball is a lengthy yet fast-paced game, it’s ideal for live betting markets.

Basketball live sports betting makes up a significant portion of live wagers for many American sportsbooks. It makes for an exhilarating experience for the audience.

Can I make money betting on basketball?

Yes, with a little luck. However, keep in mind that gambling is inherently risky. Bookmakers set odds to ensure they win in the long run. Even professional handicappers (who spend their careers studying statistics, scores, and the like) have a tough time winning regularly.

While you can have a lucky streak, chances are you’ll lose money in the end. Try to think of basketball betting as a means of entertainment, not a way to make you rich.